Cambodia opposition says mass protests last resort

Posted: 08/16/13 at 7:35 am EDT

By SOPHENG CHEANG

Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Cambodia's opposition leader whose party is disputing its narrow loss in last month's elections said Friday his supporters will take to the streets only as a last resort if their complaints of poll irregularities are not resolved fairly.

Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy returned home Friday after a weeklong visit to the United States to lead the party's challenge in the country's political standoff, which many fear may lead to violent confrontations.

He told reporters at Phnom Penh's airport that he expects Prime Minister Hun Sen will allow an impartial, independent committee to probe allegations of widespread fraud by the ruling party during the July 28 elections.

"Because, nobody would recognize any government stemming from fake elections," he said.

In message posted on his Facebook page shortly before his return, he had said he "will immediately take part in the effort on the spot to find a peaceful solution to the political crisis arising from unprecedented and inacceptable irregularities."

The official election results support the claim of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party to have won have won 68 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, against 55 for Sam Rainsy's party. The opposition claims to have actually won 63, even though the official number represents a substantial gain on the 29 seats it held in the last assembly.

The opposition has threatened to hold a massive demonstration if an impartial, independent committee does not resolve complaints over alleged widespread election irregularities.

Asked whether his party would carry out its threat to stage massive street protest if its demand for a probe was not met, he said it had to be ready to do so but "as a last resort."

The government has responded to the opposition threats by deploying troops and armored vehicles in the capital. Hun Sen, Cambodia's leader for 28 years, has a reputation for dealing harshly with his opponents.

Ratification of the results will not take place until sometime before Sept. 8, after the government-appointed National Election Committee has dealt with 17 formal complaints.

"The whole world knows that CNRP won the election and the whole world will help CNRP to expose the truth - the truth is that CNRP won the election," Sam Rainsy said upon arrival at the airport, where he was greeted by about 300 supporters.

Sam Rainsy had spent about a week in the United States to attend his daughter's wedding. Sam Rainsy had also been expected to test the waters for international support for his campaign to pressure Hun Sen's government.

He said he had met with senior U.S. and United Nations officials in New York. His party has called for the U.N. to play a role in the election scrutiny body.

The total popular vote was 3,235,969 for the ruling CPP and 2,946,176 for the CNRP, with six other parties failing to accrue enough votes to win any assembly seats.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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